73

Flames 1, Kings 0 post-game embers: All Hamonic, all Rittich

I think, after performances like that, it’s worth it to overhype some players, at least a little. Travis Hamonic had his best game as a Flame, and without David Rittich there wouldn’t have been a win. Full credit where credit is due, because those two were amazing – and they’re responsible for another two points.

Feel of the game

The start was a little bumpy for both teams, but it was as though Hamonic was feeling it right from the beginning. In a night that featured plenty of pretty Flames passing with no results (I’m looking primarily at you, top line), not even two and a half minutes in, Hamonic was frantically banging his stick on the ice. Austin Czarnik slid it over to him, Hamonic didn’t miss far side, and that was it.

Though it shouldn’t have been, really. The Flames took over as the game went on. They had their slip-ups, but for the most part, they prevented the Kings from being threatening. When they did threaten, Hamonic and Rittich were there to shut them down. And all the while they created chance after chance after chance – the first and third lines in particular – though none of them were able to come to fruition.

The Flames probably should have had a multi-goal lead going into the third, but instead, things were kept stressful. There’s just something to having that extra cushion a multi-goal lead provides (remember the 2-1 win over Toronto? At least they had some leeway thanks to quick back-to-back goals), and the Flames were completely unable to find that. Being subjected to two penalty kills towards the end built on that, but again: Hamonic and Rittich were there, Hamonic and Rittich dominated, Hamonic and Rittich made sure it stayed a 1-0 game.

And they won it. It could have been a lot less tense, but you’ll always take the result, especially when you get to see performances like that.

The good news

Just a little more raving over Hamonic and Rittich here, because it was earned. Hamonic played maybe one of his best games to date: he scored the only goal and he was a pivotal part of the defence, neutralizing Noah Hanifin’s errors, blocking shots, rushing back into the play to prevent scoring chances. For the ones he couldn’t, Big Save Dave lived up to the nickname. And how incredibly special is it to pick up your first NHL shutout in a 1-0 win? Though the Flames ultimately did a good job of limiting the Kings’ chances, shutouts are never a gimme (he looked like he was going to get it against the Rangers, only to give up a single goal). This was in one of the tensest circumstances possible, and Rittich pulled it off. (And how about the confidence to go charging out of his net to completely deny a breakaway chance, too! He was feeling it.)

The Flames have had to play from behind a lot lately, and third period comebacks are already becoming a meme with this team. That wasn’t the case at all against the Kings: 2:26 into the game, the Flames got the lead, and they never looked back. Though they failed to ever really add on to it, they were really trying most of the game. It both was a change of pace and kind of wasn’t.

The penalty kill held firm during some tense moments. The Flames had to kill off three penalties: one in the first period, and two towards the end of the game. They had more scoring chances shorthanded than the Kings did up a man in the first kill. They got through the second and third kills just fine, though they did allow three scoring chances, according to NaturalStatTrick, in the third period. But again: Rittich.

Bottom six shoutouts: Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik were gunning for it, Derek Ryan provided strong support, Mark Jankowski seems to have stepped his game back up, and Austin Czarnik should be a lineup regular. Yeah, the team only scored one goal, but again: forward depth. We’re so far past the days of Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth playing on the same line.

It’s wild to think Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki only have 42 games of NHL experience between them. They’re still getting limited minutes, but this bodes so well for the future.

Matthew Tkachuk! Hugging! Rittich!!!

The bad news

It’s good that the Flames had so many scoring chances; it’s bad they couldn’t score on any of them. I’ll forgive the third line some, because their effort and crashing and banging and willingness to take the shot was all great, but the first line did that overpassing thing they have a tendency to do once again. The game had a good result, but we’re seeing less-than-ideal habits still sticking around, and they’d have been kicking themselves if the Kings had gotten even a single goal. And the game definitely shouldn’t have been that close in the third when suddenly the whistles came out; the Flames created a prime chance to burn themselves.

Hanifin didn’t have the best of nights. It’s great that Hamonic was playing out of his mind so it never really turned into an issue, but what about the games in which he can’t do that? It’s easy to forget how young Hanifin still is – he’s three months younger than Andersson – but considering the Flames gave up a top pairing defenceman in Dougie Hamilton in the trade, I think it’s fair to wish he’ll have better games in the future.

Mikael Backlund’s line didn’t have the best night, and they weren’t even matched up against the Kings’ best players (unless Trevor Lewis is a top player now? The Kings are having a bad season, I don’t know). We know they’re better than that; hopefully they’ll prove it next game.

Numbers of note

53.54% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. They were well above 50% in the final two periods. Remember that they were never chasing. They earned that win, even if it was only by one goal.

5 – Hamonic and Frolik led the way with five shots each. Frolik can’t stop scoring goals for some reason, so that’s not entirely unexpected; Hamonic as a team shot leader is definitely surprising, though. Along with Johnny Gaudreau, the trio combined for 14 shots on net; take those three away, and the Flames still would have outshot the Kings 22-21, instead of the 36-21 they took over with.

5 – Hamonic’s career high in goals. He’s got two in nine games for the Flames so far this year. No guarantees that he sets a new career high, of course – this game was probably more the exception than the norm – but this is a pretty good start for him, now that he’s back from injury.

3:18 – Hamonic was a leader in penalty killing time, too; just six fewer seconds than Mark Giordano. And the kill ended up being crucial. Nobody else eclipsed three minutes.

.935% – Rittich’s save percentage in six starts (and two relief efforts, including that mess of a Penguins game). He’s currently a top 10 goalie by save percentage, and top five out of those with at least eight games played. His even strength save percentage is .951% – out of goalies with at least eight games played, only Pekka Rinne has a higher percentage.

Final thought

It’s not fair to label Rittich a starter just yet, if only because of how it went down the last time that happened, circa February’s unravelling. And it does make sense to go back to Mike Smith for the next game, but pretty much just because of the back-to-back scenario.

But nobody involved is unaware, I would think. Everyone can see that Rittich is playing well. That he has far better stats is irrefutable. I’d be surprised if the involved parties couldn’t sense what was happening: and if the changing of the guard happens at a manageable pace, well… let’s just try to get there first, but it’s nice to know that at present time the Flames can win a game thanks to their goaltending.

  • _vntony

    Despite it being a back to back and fatigue possibly being an issue, I hope they still go with Rittich. He’s earned it.
    And frankly, I’m trusting a possibly more tired Rittich over a rested Mike Smith…

  • Flint

    I’ve said it every time I comment on Hamonic…. you may or may not like the trade, but that is a separate issue from his play. His detractors, I believe, are overly critical because of the trade and not his play. He’s been a very valuable addition to our “D” core since arriving and this years he seems to have really upped his game.

    Re: Rittich. The starter/backup positions don’t have to be fixed for the season, but they should be an honest assessment of the current. Rittich needs to be the starter and getting the starts until he falters at this point. Why unnecessarily hold back the better goaltender? Should we put Lindholm on the fourth line because he’s scoring too many goals? Should we put Andersson in the press box because he looks too composed for his age and experience? Why should we not play the young goalie if the old guy is struggling mightily. It’s nonsense.

    This is pro sports, the goal is to win. Play the players who give us the best chance to win. Rittich is miles ahead in that race.

    • smatic10

      I agree, give Rittich the number 1 role.

      The only reason behind going back to Smith is that BP realizes that it’s a long season and if we want to succeed, he’s going to have to get Smith going somehow. Only way to do that is to give him games.

      It’s risky but imagine if Smitty does find his way….the players can feel comfortable playing in front of either goalie and that would go a long way.

      With all that being said, if he gives up another set of softies in SJ, then I think Rittich will officially be give the lion’s share of games.

  • buts

    Loved the penalty kills aggressive checking, it was a treat to watch. The teams neutral zone play was the best all year as the stifled a not so good team. I’ll take Hanifin having an off game over Hamilton any day Ari. Rittich should start for no other reason than he has a shutout streak going, when you’re feeling it and got the mojo going keep on playing back to back or not.

    • Kevin R

      Ironically, Hamilton isnt anchoring the Carolina PP & there are rumours of a Hamilton for Nylander swap. Hanifin really trys to generate offence & that will lead to mistakes & bad timed risks. Kid is 21 for crap sake & I would rather have him as well. I think there is only 1 or 2 points difference between Hanifin & Hamilton right now. This trade was supposed to be beneficial to the Flames over the long term but already many are saying Flames did ok on this based on play on ice.

  • Luter 1

    Ari, glad you mentioned Hanifin, because I thought him and Hamonic were out of sync all night ( two specific situation where they are passing to an invisible d-partner). Hamonic looked good on the rush but the two of them still have a long way to go in there own end.
    Thought Bennett was a beast again, very disappointed that he is playing aggressive and gets in a jostling match only to be hit by two separate crosschecks in the back and his teammates stand around with their fingers up their arse. With that kind of support it won’t be long before he quits going to the dirty areas, not sure why the Flames don’t rally around guys like that a little more?

    • calgaryfan

      Overall I thought the Flames stood up to the Kings and their intimidation. The Flames did not fold under the Kings bully tactics. It is about determination and will for 60 minutes not some scuffles hear and there. Good on Hathaway, Bennett and Hamonic leading the way.

  • Off the wall

    Well said Ari.
    The Kings were badly outplayed in the first 10 minutes. They didn’t register ONE shot until after the 10 minute mark. It was nice to see the Flames with a great start for a change.

    Jankowski has another good game. He had over 70% wins in the face-off dot. Great PK by him and Hathaway.

    It was great to see Hamonic doing everything this game. That two on 1 against Kovalchuk was played perfectly. Tapping his stick in the O- zone? He was feeling confident. I love Hamonic. He’s a warrior.

    The Kings smothered us with that ugly neutral zone trap, it was a well deserved win, thanks to Rittich. He’s another warrior who just quietly gets the job done. He just stays calm and positioned. I feel calm when he’s playing- and usually I’m tightening my butt cheeks when Smith is in net. Sorry Smith.

    Say what you will about officiating, however I thought they allowed both teams to play, without taking away from the game. It was nice for a change. The two late calls sucked- both were penalties though. I have no problem with that.

    It was a solid win. Thanks Flames!

  • Off the wall

    Ever since the time change, I’ve been getting up earlier and earlier. My internal clock has gone to hell.

    This morning I went out in the pitch black- 5:30am only to find an owl hooting in my Ash tree.

    It sounded like it was asking who, who’s in net? Yah, I know, I might need help.

    I replied, “ Rittich” in a query form. It flew away. Stupid owl, even it knows what’s happening tonight against the Sharks..

  • Skylardog

    Crow tasted fine this AM, mainly due to a Flames win. Hamonic was a beast.

    You got the feeling by the second period that LA wasn’t going to score last night. Their rushes looked slow and inept. Just not much threat from any part of their lineup. And Rittich looked like a rock. Was he ever out of position even once last night? Made it look easy.

    • Off the wall

      It’s all good Skylar. Stats don’t always tell the story, neither does my incessant story telling.

      I finally realized why I’m waking up so damn early. My landlord who lives below me, has his fuc** alarm set for 5:00am. He hasn’t been home in the last week. Yet the alarm keeps going off.

      Otw is going to get even. I’m going to set up my Christmas lights right beside his fuc** bedroom and have them lit up all night! Take that you tool..

      • Skylardog

        Although many would disagree, I don’t rely on stats to tell me what I believe. I have watched every second of Flames hockey so far this season. Many of those seconds I have rewatched looking for causes and effects.

        I have known full well, that Hamonic has the lowest HDCA against on the Flames roster, and that the save% when he has been on has been horrid. I just expect more from a guy that cost so much to bring in. His play had been below the standard I believe he should be playing at.

        But last night, he was a beast. It scares me that he had to make those great plays however. Hanifin had a weak game. At least last night he was in position to back him up. That is something that had been lacking at times.

        As you should know, I love to stir the pot.

  • Fan the Flames

    A solid road game against a heavy team that likes to wear you down . Hamonic was excellent and I was very impressed with Valamaki and Raz in their own end . LA tried to get Kopitar and Carter out against them all night and they held up nicely . Valamaki took a penalty but no damage done good work Flames.

  • GoodSaveDave

    Long time reader first time posting …. did anyone else notice just how Rittich thinking in situations is way above smiths? I noticed I believe in the third the kings dumped it in puck going wide instead of letting it bounce off the end boards and having the puck bounce back out front he glides over and pads the puck into the corner. His reactions to situations are just far above smiths

  • Skylardog

    So Smith is still starting apparently. This is the best news ever!

    You always rest the starter in the second game of a back to back.

    Enjoy the rest David. Looking forward to a stellar night back in Calgary against Montreal on Thrursday.

    Hoping the Flames can put in 6 against SJ.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    What is going on with Neil? The adjustment period has to be over by now, the big bucks, and not much showing for the money. I sure hope this isn’t going to be another TB scenario.
    Well Rittich has sure surprised me with his play, what the heck did he do this summer to improve so much, anyway keep it up.

  • The GREAT WW

    I have not watched the game yet, sounds like Backlund was a bag of crap out there again tonight…..

    Look at his body of work since he signed his massive contract last year…..crap!

    WW

  • Flames fan since 83

    I want to give a shout out to Hathaway.
    He’s excellent on the PK. He has speed and grit. He’s not going to get more than 10 goals, but he brings a tangible aspect to the Flames.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Ari’s assessment of Hanifin last night was interesting and if it’s accurate, it begs the question of how much longer Hanifin’s youth can be rolled out as an acceptable reason for his shortcomings. With Andersson, any bumps in his play as an NHLer are not blamed on his age but on his being a rookie, which is fair enough, but Hanifin is in his fourth full season in the NHL, so don’t you think his pro experience should trump his tender age?

    • Chucky

      This is a tough situation because of the available solutions.
      Do they change the TOI to and reduce the usage of Hamonic who is playing well? Try to slot a Stone in on the left side? Break up Vilimaki Anderson and put the load on Anderson? Put Brodie on the left side where he struggles and put him with Stone?
      None of those look any better than trying to work with Hanifin and get him to the level that is needed for a second pairing guy. It is likely that BT is hoping to see something a lot better from him because three for one is a tough trade to win even though Lindholm is doing his best to make it look like a brilliant move.

    • Kevin R

      He’s 21 f****g years old!! WTF??????
      He’s playing on a new team in a more responsible role with different players. Wow unf*****ing believable. You get scrutinized, nitpicked & critiqued this bad at work as well.

      • MWflames

        perhaps not the word choice i would have gone with, but i don’t entirely disagree with the sentiment. let his game mature like every other defenceman is afforded the opportunity to do. He’ll steadily improve over the next few years, and he’ll be, at the least, fair value on his contract. I see the two rookies likley surpassing him on the depth chart over time, but that is just good news.

        I do think lindholm will be the major piece in that trade not hanifin tho…

        • Kevin R

          I guess I kind of lose it when I see a game where we gave up about 6 HDSC all game versus the chances we bled not all that long ago. 6, which means the D as a whole did an effective job, some better than others. To see any criticizing of our D in a 1-0 victory seems really absurd to me.

          • Luter 1

            He seems to have all the tools but his decision making and physicality is whats hurting him right now. At the NHL level coaching should start limiting these miscues but I see Brodie continues to make the dumb plays he now seems to be accustomed to so maybe the coaches don’t influence these guys that much. Brodie should have been given a set of weights over the summer because he is as weak as a baby with his stick, causes him all kinds of problem clearing the puck especially on the PK

  • BlueMoonNigel

    The last time a Flames’ goalie had a shutout, Peters went with the hot hand and started the guy in the next game. It did not go well as Smitty got yanked. I’m all in favour of switching up the pattern and rolling with Smitty tonight.

  • Chucky

    It was great to see the guys that were on the ice at the end of the game. Most coaches would ignore the game statistics and use Ryan as the second centre. After all they brought him in to win faceoffs, but Peters looked at the performance in the game and saw that Backlund and Jankowski had the best faceoff records and put them on the ice.
    Clear thinking is a big improvement and helps to win close games.

  • Stockton's Finest

    Everyone keeps talking about the Rittich performance last year when Smith went down. Let’s take a short but closer look at that.

    At that point in the season, the team, led by a certain robot behind the bench, had all but thrown in the towel. Mathematic still alive, the slump had started. The coach lost the room, the team had major defensive lapses, and the forward group was not doing its job. All factors that left a goalie hung out to dry. Even upon his return to Stockton he faced the same situation.

    What he did do is learn from that experience and has brought that fight back with a better team in front of him. Good job Ritter! You came to camp prepared to shine. So far, so good. Time to ease I to the starting role. I am perfectly fine with a 50/50 split the rest of the way.

    • Flaymin Frank

      Diesel got thrown in the deep end last year. No life preserver on standby. What I mean is that this young guy was pressed into the #1 spot due to I jury. In my mind’s eye he didn’t look settled and I think he psyched himself out. This season he has a chance to be #1 with the wiley veteran sitting on the sidelines in a support role. Diesel looks very confident and there’s little doubt IMHO that he can’t bear the weight of being the #1 guy.

    • Skylardog

      This is the part of the story that is being overlooked. Very accurate analysis of the situation last year Stockton.

      I am sure he spent the summer preparing himself mentally to take over the net if needed. He will be ready if called upon to be the number 1.

  • Redleader

    This is one game where Tkachuk wasn’t overly noticeable, Valimaki is going to be a number one DMan , Hanifin betterstep it up because Valimaki is gonna take his spot soon. I’m becoming a Hathaway fan again , Bennett is becoming a very strong player and is on the cusp of breaking out, wonder if they would try Bennett with Backs and TKACHUK. . I’m still not impressed by Jankowski so far this season, looks like he’s taken a step back ,I don’t like his compete level ,so far. Let’s praise Rittich but Mike Smith is not washed up yet ,10 games in and all sudden he’s NHL career is over?

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      Bennett with Backs and Chuck would be amazing. Benny could do well on the right side too, I think. Bennett deserves to play with those two, and I think his play justifies that. But he just needs to start producing.

      I think Janko is just starting up. Give him time.

  • ZZMiddle

    Ari, your continued pumping of Doug Hamilton’s tires as a top pairing d man proves to me you dont know or understand the game. Young, true top pairing d men dont get traded even once, never mind twice. True hockey people know his shortcomings outweighed his positives. This is why he was traded,for a second time. Im not sure how people get a job writing for a hockey page when it is clear they are a casual fan at best, not a person with deep hockey roots, or knowledge, which is what I would hope for in an article on the game of ice hockey. Get over Dougie, Ari. He was not, is not, and never will be a great NHL d man.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I seem to recall that Rittich is the product of Singalet’s scouting. He was really high on the kid when no one knew anything about him. If Rittich turns out like we believe he will….the goalie coach whipping boy deserves some credit.

  • Dunk

    Smith could not have been any better in this game but I think we all know what would have happened. RITTICH was very sharp when he needed to be. Awesome shutout.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    @Ari

    Would it be worthwhile to do an article about how well Backlund is doing on the penalty kill? He seems to be the best on the team by the eye test, and I’d like to see a fancy stat analysis. Perhaps compare him to other PK specialists on the team, maybe some we’ve had in the past?

  • oilcanboyd

    Smith starts tonight because the backup starts the second of back to back games. We need Smitty to get his Mojo back or no Cup contention this season. Plus Rittich needs to be rested for the Habs and Oilers this week.